Imagine walking into your local supermarket to discover the aisles blocked with abandoned trolleys and the checkouts hidden behind piles of dumped shopping baskets. It never happens. Customers would find somewhere else to shop and the store manager would soon be out of job. The worst scenario is that the store could shut down.

But most people will be surprised to learn that in online stores, half of all shopping baskets are being abandoned before checkout. This is a staggering statistics and Nigerian ecommerce businesses are potentially leaving billions of pounds a year on the table by not improving the shopping experience for customers.

This can partly be explained by the fact that bricks-and-mortar shops have had hundreds of years worth of experience on which to base decisions about how they set up their stores, how to encourage people to move through the shop and how best to display products. E-commerce, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon; particularly in Nigeria. Online stores have often been seen as a separate arm of a high street chain’s business, rather than its single biggest store, and as such the website might have been somewhat neglected in terms of the constant analysis and improvement it craves.

Despite the tough climate on the high streets on the country today, it is the businesses that have adapted to this online revolution that are winning. Those that reacted fastest to rapidly changing consumer behaviour have invested in their websites. They test and tune their pages and make regular changes to their sites based on scientific data.

Any business can use online applications to understand which parts of its site work, and which need fixing. Imagine if a typical high street store could change its shop front to one of a number of designs for every person that walked past the shop, and measure which shop front design worked best. Or that the same store could understand how every single customer moved around the shop floor in real-time to discover exactly which parts of the shop people liked and those they didn’t. It’s hard to understand just how powerful this information and testing would be in the offline world – but it’s available online every day.

Leading UK footwear provider, Schuh, for example, managed to more than double its conversion rate – the amount of people that actually made a purchase – across its website by running multiple tests across different parts of the site. Tests included making small changes to the image sizes on their shoe category pages – showing larger images and less overall products per page increased conversion by six per cent.

But these tools to help businesses are by no means exclusive to the big players. Small and medium-sized businesses can also use free tools like Google Analytics to understand what customers are doing on their websites, and applications like Website Optimiser to fix pages or discover blockages in the buying process. Businesses can carry out A/B or multivariate tests on their web pages – i.e. showing different versions of a page to different customers to discover which versions of a page worked best for them.

As the economic activities continue to rise across the country, the most successful ecommerce sites will rise to the top by winning new customers online. The winners will not be those that have the prettiest design, or the flashiest images or videos, but those that understand what their customers really want by looking at cold, hard numbers. Nigeria is already one of Africa’s leaders in e-commerce, but the position could be consolidated if every business realised the true power of the data at their fingertips.

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